The book trade has reacted with shock and dismay to the “tragedy” that Quick Reads has been scrapped for next year after organisers struggled to find sponsorship.
Authors such as Joanne Harris, Susan Hill and Ann Cleeves have all shared their disappointment over the news, along with publishers, librarians and booksellers.
It was revealed by The Bookseller on Friday (19th April) that the Reading Agency, which coordinates the literacy scheme for adults, will not commission a list of accessible books by well-known authors for next year. The scheme is coming to an end after 12 years because a sponsor could not be found following an 18-month search.
The Society of Authors has called for a campaign to plug the funding gap and began a #SaveQuickReads hashtag on Twitter, with chief executive Nicola Solomon saying: “We cannot afford to lose Quick Reads, a brilliant campaign for showing people that reading is enjoyable and need not be intimidating”.
The SoA is urging companies, inside or outside of the publishing industry, to save the scheme.
“It is our hope that a new sponsor can be found to give this unique scheme long term financial security,” an SoA spokesperson said. “£120,000pa is not a large amount of money for a commercial sponsor or group of sponsors, whether inside or outside the publishing industry. Alternatively, publishers already involved in the printing and distribution of Quick Reads could simply take over the whole scheme, ensuring that they commission, print, promote and distribute books to broad and new audiences.”
Sphere’s editorial director, Ed Wood, described the news “as a tragedy”.
“Quick Reads is a fantastic initiative and alongside the closure of libraries, another huge blow to access to books and fostering literacy in this country,” he tweeted.
Some authors shared their own experiences of being involved in Quick Reads, with Rowan Coleman describing how she met “a grandfather who was able to read to grandkids for the first time”. Fellow novelist Harriet Evans revealed that doing “Quick Reads was the best experience of my career as a writer”.
“It is bonkers, criminal, horrific that it is without funding,” she tweeted. “How can publishers talk about inclusivity & let this amazing operation (which is about creating new book buyers) die?”
Hill asked fellow writers to contact her if they could help, while crime writer Clare Mackintosh is also believed to be preparing a campaign to save the programme.
Harris tweeted about the situation numerous times to her 57,000 followers to help save the programme, asking “Isn't this what social media is for?” while Cleeves called for everyone to “get behind the scheme”.
“There must be a bookseller, publisher or funder willing to give its name to such a brilliant cause,” she tweeted.
Library worker Alan Wylie revealed he had been administering and promoting Quick Reads in his library this year so was “very sad and worried” to hear of its demise.
Waterstones bookseller Leilah Skelton said the loss felt “like a punch to the throat”. She tweeted: “So many people feel excluded from books because books aren't made for the time-poor, or the actually-just-poor-poor. There are very few that are made and marketed for the oiks like me.”
The Reading Agency welcomed the support shown over the past few days but emphasised the need to secure "long-term sponsorship" of at least three years for the scheme.
"We are extremely grateful to everyone who has shown their support for Quick Reads so far, and moved to see once again that Quick Reads have touched so many people’s lives," c.e.o. Sue Wilkinson said.
"We're incredibly proud to have been custodians of a scheme that has benefited so many, for so long. As a charity, we warmly welcome any efforts to fundraise for us and all the efforts made by authors, the Quick Reads team and Gail Rebuck this year. However, we need to secure long-term sponsorship – at least three years – to run the programme effectively and ensure its sustainability. Otherwise, we could find ourselves in exactly the same position again every year."
Wilkinson described how if a long-term "opportunity presents itself, we will welcome it with open arms".
"However, in the meantime, we will focus on making the Quick Reads backlist available to all of our partners who do brilliant work encouraging adults to read, and developing our other adult reading programmes including World Book Night, celebrated today," she said.
"We remain wholeheartedly committed to supporting adult emergent readers through this, through our Reading Ahead programme, and with publishers and public libraries.”